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Herp Marketplace: The Natural Way

Posted: August 9, 2013, 11:00 a.m. EDT

Hobbyists seek a natural look and efficient methods to improve water quality for their reptile and amphibian habitats.

By Portia Stewart

Aquatic herp hobbyists want the same thing every pet owner wants, according to  Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager and reptile specialist with Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. "They just want what’s best for their pet,” he said.
While their affection for their animals is the same as owners of furry pets, the products they need to keep those pets healthy are very different. Bobby Blood, director of sales with Timberline Live Pet Foods in Marion, Ill., said these aquatic herps have specialized needs that often include items from live food to filtration systems and water conditioners, including dechlorinators and beneficial bacteria.

Herp Cage
Meet the needs of both beginning and advanced hobbyists by stocking a full line of attractive terrariums and accessories. Courtesy of Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp.

Hobbyists also are looking for attractive glass terrariums, mechanical filters, natural substrate and plants and decorations, Blood said. So it’s important for retailers to be fully stocked with terrariums, accessories and knowledge to help beginners get started successfully, as well as to supply the needs of advanced hobbyists.

Sotelo agreed that retailers need to carry a range of products to serve hobbyists and possess appropriate knowledge to guide them in the best care for their aquatic herps.

"If the product is on the shelves, people will buy it,” Sotelo said. "We want to make sure associates aren’t afraid to talk to herp keepers.”

Jamie Cassin, sales and customer service manager at ReptMart in Naples, Fla., said her store sells a lot of the full aquatic turtle kits.

"People tend to like things that come put together for gifts or for their kids so that they can get everything they need without searching for each product,” she said. "The turtle docks also are very popular, and they are very easy to use along with some of the turtle filters.

ReptMart also sells many waterfall kits and frog moss for frog terrariums, Cassin added.

"New hobbyists are looking for low prices along with ease of use and aesthetics. The more natural a product looks and the more appealing, it seems to sell better,” she said.

Jim Onofrio, owner of Reptile, in North Tonawanda, N.Y., said open-air aluminum screen cages have been a popular seller. He and Giovanni Fagioli, owner of the The Bean Farm in Carnation, Wash., are online retailers, and both said they don’t sell glass cages because of shipping challenges.

For heat needs, Fagioli said it depends on the type of cage, because he likes undertank heaters for some applications.

"If there is water to heat, then we use submersible aquarium heaters,” he said.

Understanding Herp Needs
The primary difference in aquatic herp customers and other pet owners is that hobbyists must understand water quality and filtration for their pets’ health.

According to Pam Morisse, associate brand manager for Central Aquatics in Franklin, Wis., a company that produces aquariums and terrariums, and supplies high-end aquatics consumables, internal filters are a good example of the type of new products owners of aquatic herp pets are interested in. Ease of use, quality and cost all are important qualities that consumers are searching for when they make purchases.

"What makes these pet owners different from nonaquatic reptile owners is that water quality is key to maintaining a healthy environment and animal—much like in the aquatics hobby,” Morisse said. "Educating consumers on the necessity and the steps to maintain water quality would be essential in meeting customer needs and help to ensure their success.”

Ashley Rademacher, the animal care and education coordinator with Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif., agreed that water quality is one of the most important considerations for the health of aquatic reptiles.

"Aquatic herps spend most or all of their time in the water, so it is essential that their water be clean,” she said. "Use of a good quality, efficient filter is invaluable when it comes to maintaining aquatic pets.”

Zoo Med recently released the Turtle Clean 50 and Turtle Clean 75, which are high-capacity canister filters designed for aquatic reptile enclosures that are 50 and 75 gallons in size, respectively, Rademacher said, adding that the slim line design allows the filters to fit in tight spaces.

Sotelo agreed that products designed to help maintain water quality need to be efficient and easy for hobbyists to use, and that’s what consumers are looking for when they make purchasing decisions.

"In regards to aquatic turtle enthusiasts, they don’t want to change water three times a week,” Sotelo said. "Low-profile and easy-to-use filtration helps reduce maintenance and is much healthier for reptiles or amphibians. Ultimately, the cleaner the habitat, the longer the reptile lives.”

Water conditioners also are important for hobbyists, insiders reported.

Stand Out
With so many diverse products and companies in the marketplace, how do reptile companies make sure their products stand out? Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager and reptile specialist with Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass., said the company is focused on the language of its packaging.
"We need to tell a story to the consumer so they understand that we’re creating the best products and value for their dollars,” Sotelo said.
Bobby Blood, director of sales with Timberline Live Pet Foods in Marion, Ill., said Timberline uses reputation to differentiate itself in the market. The company’s history of fishing bait and supplies, and its large presence in live reptile and amphibian foods, has given the company the right skills to serve the aquatic herp market, Blood said.
"We stand behind our foods with an industry-unique live-delivery guarantee,” Blood said.

"Exo Terra makes a natural liquid product called Turtle Clean that reduces waste accumulation and the odors that result from poor water conditions,” Sotelo said. "Filters and décor items, like the Exo Terra Turtle Cliff, not only provide a natural-looking rock-basking site, but also a hidden filter that’s easy to clean.”

In terms of keeping pets healthy, Blood said live foods can be very important.

"Live foods are essential nutritionally for amphibians, for example,” he said. "Some aquatic herps, such as salamanders, only will eat live food.”

To help support aquatic herps’ nutritional needs, Blood said Timberline offers a complete assortment of live foods that range from crickets, mealworms and waxworms to nightcrawlers, red wigglers and euro driftworms. They also are introducing a new product called Vita-Bugs—feeder insects that are fed a newly patented Timberline food that produces significantly higher levels of vitamins E and A in their bodies, he added.

"This eliminates the need for dusting or gut loading feeders with vitamin supplements,” he said.

Spreading the Message
Timberline uses a variety of methods to spread the message about its products, including advertising in trade and hobbyist publications and on the Internet, attending regional pet trade shows and sponsoring several key reptile shows.

Exo Terra has a popular Facebook page, and because it’s an international division of Rolf C. Hagen, it can make a global impact. The company also offers full-color catalogs and advertises online and in print.

"More important, Exo Terra attends or sponsors approximately 25 consumer trade shows a year,” Sotelo said. "This puts Exo Terra in front of more than a quarter of a million customers who can touch the products or ask general and advanced questions of our experts.”

Zoo Med also uses a broad range of media to connect with hobbyists, Rademacher said.

"We regularly advertise in several reptile magazines, actively participate in reptile shows and expos around the United States and the world, are active in social media such as Facebook and YouTube, keep our website up to date and have many well-versed sales representatives,” she said.

The popularity of herp aquatic essentials is reflected online and at trade shows, Soleto said, and he expects this category to continue to grow.

"We’ve learned the industry evolves incredibly fast,” he said. "Luckily we’re a step ahead in researching and noticing trends, so our products are relevant upon launches. This segment is very strong and continues to show significant growth.”

"Herpkeeping is and has been growing for years as a segment of the pet industry,” Blood said. "The introduction of products to support aquatic terrariums opens new opportunities for reptile and tropical fish retailers. The future is bright.” <HOME>


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